NWADG College Football


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Springdale • Bentonville • Siloam Springs www.staffmark.com Sunday, August 26, 2018 39 Arkansas Football Can't-miss games in the SEC By Bob Holt There are going to be lots of games involv- ing SEC teams worth watching this season, so trying to narrow them down to a top 10 list isn't easy. The opening weekend alone features five intriguing matchups played at neutral sites with Alabama-Louisville, Auburn-Washington, LSU-Miami, Tennessee-West Virginia and Ole Miss-Texas Tech. Many SEC intriguing matchups are to come, as well as some traditional nonconference in-state rivalry games late in the season with Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Clemson-South Carolina and Kentucky-Lou- isville Every week there might be several games you don't want to miss, but a top 50 list gets a little complicated, so here are 10 games definitely worth your attention: 1. ALABAMA VS LOUISVILLE, SEPT. 1, ORLANDO, FLA. Bobby Petrino went 0-4 against Alabama when he was Arkansas' coach, including a 24- 20 loss in 2010 when the Razorbacks couldn't hold a 20-7 lead. Petrino is now going into his fifth season at Louisville — the longest consecutive stint he's had at one school. He's breaking in a new starting quarterback (redshirt sophomore Jason Pass) after losing 2016 Heisman Tro- phy winner Lamar Jackson but will be going against an Alabama defense which lost three NFL first-round draft picks and returns just three starters. With an entire off-season to game plan for the Crimson Tide, can Petrino pull off the up- set against Nick Saban at Louisville that he couldn't at Arkansas? 2. AUBURN VS WASHINGTON, SEPT. 1, ATLANTA After beating Georgia and Alabama last sea- son to win a share of the SEC West title with the Crimson Tide, Auburn earned the right to play for the conference championship in Mer- cedes Benz Stadium by virtue of the Tigers' victory over the Tide. Auburn lost its rematch against Georgia in At- lanta, then lost in the Peach Bowl to Central Florida in Mercedes Benz Stadium to go 0-2 in the new football palace. The Tigers will be hoping for better results when they open this season against Washington and play a third consecutive game in Atlanta. Washington may be the higher-ranked team, but it should feel like a home game for Auburn. 3. GEORGIA AT SOUTH CAROLINA, SEPT. 8, COLUMBIA, S.C. The conference opener for the Bulldogs and Gamecocks may end up being the SEC East championship game. It will match former Nick Saban defensive co- ordinators — with Georgia Coach Kirby Smart and South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp — who are close friends. Smart made Georgia elite again last season when the Bulldogs won the SEC title and lost to Alabama in overtime in the national cham- pionship game. Muschamp led the Gamecocks to records of 6-7 and 9-4 — including a bowl victory over Michigan last season — after they went 3-9 in 2016. 4. LSU AT AUBURN, SEPT. 15, AUBURN, ALA. LSU handed Auburn its only SEC regular-sea- son loss last season when the Bayou Bengals rallied to win 27-23 in Baton Rouge after trail- ing 20-0 in the first half. It was the largest deficit LSU ever overcame to beat an SEC opponent. Watching Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn and his offensive coordinator, Chip Lindsey, go against LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aran- da should be fun. Texas A&M tried to hire Aranda in the offsea- son, and LSU kept him by offering a four-year, $10 million contract. That makes Aranda the highest-paid assistant coach in the country at $2.5 million annually, which according to the Baton Rouge Advocate is more than 80 head coaches at the FBS lev- el were paid last season. 5. TEXAS A&M AT ALABAMA, SEPT. 22, TUSCALOOSA, ALA. Jimbo Fisher, the new Texas A&M coach, will be the latest of Nick Saban's former assistant coaches to try to beat him. So far Saban's assistants are 0-12 against him, including Fisher's 0-1 record with Ala- bama's 24-7 victory over Florida State to open last season. The Aggies play Clemson two weeks before traveling to Alabama — Fisher is going to earn that $7.5 million Texas A&M is paying him over the next 10 years — but at least they get the Tigers at home. Fisher has stressed toughness to the Aggies and those early-season tests against Clemson and Alabama should show if Texas A&M is ready to play a more physical style of football. Texas A&M hired Fisher to win SEC and na- tional championships and to do that he'll have to beat Saban. Maybe not this season, but soon. 6. FLORIDA AT MISSISSIPPI STATE, SEPT. 29, STARKVILLE, MISS. Dan Mullen won't be a fan of cowbells for a change. After taking the field at Davis Wade Stadium as Mississippi State's coach the previous nine seasons, Mullen will be on the visiting sideline as Florida's coach. See SEC, Page 40

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